No ‘right’ owner for Saab?

I’ve had to travel 40 kms on a killer winding road just to check my email and write this. And here I sit in a community online center listening to some guy called ‘David’ yapping away in the background about how life’s so hard and he doesn’t know whether to stay here or move to Newcastle and someone’s messing with his business and something about surface to air missiles……….surface to air missiles??????
Thankfully nothing’s changed with Saab whilst I’ve been away. Hopefully that’ll continue for another short while until I get home.
In the meantime, I’d like to promote this comment from Kroum to be a post here on the front page. It was written in response to some debate over current ownership prospects and like others, I thought it pretty well constructed.
I think this very healthy debate could use a sober retrospect of Saab’s previous ownership history and the individual drawbacks and benefits associated with each. For 60 years of existence, Saab has roughly had three parents.
The original Saab – the plane-maker cum military conglomerate – is of course the mother of Saab Automobile. Romanticism aside, the car unit was not really profitable and Saab AB lacked the resources needed to grow the marquee. A few times there were suggestions it merge with Volvo. Pros from this era included freedom to design and execute, world-leading safety expertise, access to advanced engineering resources within the hotbed of Swedish industrial innovation and hi tech research, the association with a jet-maker (exploited early on in Saab’s U.S. marketing), the numerous wins in motor sports. Cons: limited economies of scale, lack of investment in new technologies, rising labour costs in Sweden which troubled Saab’s then value brand image.
Saab ended up married to truck- and coach-maker Scania and as we all know Saab-Scania was a very tense relationship due to the fact that Scania’s profits were consistently being cannibalized by it’s little brother Saab. Under Investor AB, the two, however, had more in common than the automotive division had with the aerospace mother company. Rising labour costs coupled with increased R&D forced Saab to consider moving up-market in order to remain somewhat competitive. Part of this effort was designing a large V8 engine to compete with the other luxury marquees in North America. This project ended up being replaced by means of borrowing Scania’s expertise in turbocharging and adapting it to an automobile with all the associated engineering and endurance requirements. Turbocharging instantly became a Saab trademark trait.
Saab, however, continued to struggle to make profit and unable (or unwilling) to further invest in the unit, so it could grow, Investor AB ended up selling it to General Motors, at that time still a mega-corporation ontop of the world. A controversial part of Saab’s history to be sure, but at long last Saab was part of an automaker and could thus gain access to platforms, parts and enormous economies of scale. We all know it didn’t work, and there is probably no single answer to the question “why?”. GM did not really understand Saab and for the most part was not very willing to invest. Their idea was to utilize Opel platforms and parts bins for all theur European operations, which of course ran counter to Saab’s core philosophy of being, if not better, at least different. The Swedes also proved a rather unruly bunch, pissing off GM at many an occasion to the point where after the development of the new 9-3 was completed GM was seriously considering shuttering Saab. The punishment came with split personality – part Subaru, part Chevy Trailblazer. And just as the two seemed to finally get to understand each other, GM entered he final stage of its long, agonizing trip down the death spiral.
What I’m getting at is that at the end of the day Saab’s destiny is that of a trouble child. L’enfant terrible, yes. So it doesn’t matter if the owner is a jet maker and a military conglomerate (Saab AB), a heavy equipment maker (Scania), an investment group (Investor AB) or a large diverse automaker (GM). It doesn’t matter is Saab has freedom to do as it wishes or if it is tightly restricted and works under a budget… No matter what the circumstances and who the owner, Saab will be Saab and this is part of its charm. Under the moving designs, practical hatchbacks, turbocharged engines and class leading safety there is this difficult character. It is a critical part of Saab’s infamous quirkiness – the quirk in quirkiness itself.
So in summary: there is no “right owner” for Saab.
Saab will have a new owner. Soon.
Regardless of who they are, I’m looking forward to it and the way Saab develops into the future. It’s going to be challenging in a number of ways, but it’s a trip I’m looking forward to.
My time on this PC is up. Can’t wait to get home to regular access again.
I’m sorry about doing this, but if there’s any important news, please continue to keep yourselves informed. We will return to regular services here very soon.
Please be kind to one another.
And “none”, let me save you some time: we’re all aware of the fact that you won’t buy a Saab from Renco.
We’re all aware. Thanks.